Kentucky Ag News

Feb. 20 event will demonstrate hemp processing


Special to Kentucky Agricultural News


ST. CATHARINE, Ky. — The Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College will host a hemp decortication (processing into fiber material) demonstration on Friday, Feb. 20, at 1 p.m. EST. The event is public and open to those interested in learning about last year’s Homegrown By Heroes crop and textile research project conducted through the partnership of Patagonia, Fibershed, Bastcore, Freedom Seed and Feed, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA).

Mike Lewis, vice president of Freedom Seed and Feed, a Berry Farming Program student, and Kentucky hemp farmer who tended the Homegrown By Heroes crop, will conduct the demonstration and discuss his experience working with industrial hemp. “The Berry Farming Program at St. Catharine's is dedicated to teaching students the historic, and all too often forgotten, agrarian principles of Wendell Berry in hopes of empowering its students to ‘resettle’ America in a sustainable way that provides empowerment and security to the land and its inhabitants,” said Lewis, a founding member of the KDA’s Homegrown By Heroes program. “I could not imagine a more fitting location for us to process this historic crop and prepare it for market. The sustainable synergy between Fibershed, Patagonia, Freedom Seed and Feed, Bastcore, and the farmers in this process represent the future of the Kentucky artisan fiber industry. American farmers and consumers are fortunate to have these groups working together for our collective future, and I am proud to have been able to play a part.”


“The Berry Farming Program is pleased to host this historic event at St. Catharine College. Hemp production holds an important place in Kentucky’s agricultural history, and this decortication exercise signals yet another step in re-establishing hemp’s part in bolstering sustainable, diversified, family farm production,” said Dr. Leah Bayens, Berry Farming Program coordinator at St. Catharine College. “We are proud of BFP student Mike Lewis’s leadership in this project and his service to the community testing out propagation and processing techniques. We hope our neighbors near and far will join us to learn about this generations-old practice revitalized in central Kentucky.”

John Lupien, founder of Bastcore, LLC, said he is honored and thrilled for the opportunity to process Kentucky's first hemp crop since prohibition with the "hemp gin" decortication system. “Our goal is to provide the missing processing infrastructure, thereby bridging the farm to the end markets,” Lupien said. “We hope this work sufficiently proves economic feasibility to a degree that enables the agricultural return of this historic crop to Kentucky and spurs economic revitalization through the myriad industries that currently seek hemp materials for their products.”

Fibershed’s founder, Rebecca Burgess, said: “Fibershed is elated at the opportunity to facilitate, support, and nurture this emerging Kentucky hemp fiber agricultural movement, and we are very interested in seeing fiber processing and value addition take place on and near farms where the fiber is grown for the enhancement and creation of flourishing rural economies.”

Last year, Patagonia provided Fibershed with funding to support the Homegrown by Heroes pilot project in its efforts to create the tools and processing equipment for its first hemp fiber crop. Patagonia is interested in seeing a truly sustainable domestic fiber supply manifest and views hemp farming as a critical step toward renewing an organic American textile culture. “It is a great honor that Patagonia’s grant is helping to nudge along the work of folks with such ability and vision,” said Patagonia employee Dan Malloy. “I believe it is this kind of work that will bring the ecologic, economic and cultural renewal that our country so desperately needs.”

“Mike Lewis and the businesses involved in this project are showing that it’s possible to create a supply chain that will serve a prosperous industrial hemp industry,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who has led the charge to legalize industrial hemp production in the Commonwealth since he took office in January 2012. “The caliber of our business partners in this venture – especially Patagonia, with an international profile and a well-earned reputation as a good corporate citizen – shows that business is interested in Kentucky-grown industrial hemp.”

Josh Hendrix, president and founder of the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association, offered to present this event as an educational opportunity for the public. "With 2014 being Kentucky's first year growing and all the circumstances that came into play just trying to get this crop in the ground, it is exciting to see some of our members already being so progressive in their efforts with hemp,” said Hendrix. “To rebrand Kentucky as America's Hemp Capital or ‘The Hemp State’, as it was once known, we will need to rely on such projects and partnerships, as well as others throughout the state to keep Kentucky at the forefront of this emerging industry. Exciting times are certainly ahead of us, and we look forward to building off of this momentum in 2015 with even more forward thinking research projects here in the Bluegrass to showcase.”